Review: Monster Tale
A review of ‘Monster Tale’, developed by Dreamrift, published by Majesco Entertainment for the Nintendo DS
Monsters. What small child doesn’t like monsters. Scratch that, what child isn’t deathly afraid of monsters to the extent that they piss the bed and what adult doesn’t think that actually having a slavering huge beast wouldn’t be actually kind of cool?
It turns out that having a monster is actually just kind of weird, at least in this game. The basic premise of the story is that you are a small child, thrust into a new land by way of a magical bracelet that you have found whilst out in a forest. Her shoes, sadly, are not red so the obvious Dorothy (re: Wizard of Oz) reference is not as obvious as it might be, though one can choose to place her point of origin as a dirt farm in Kansas if it helps you with the immersion. As you arrive in Oz you happen upon a ‘Mysterious Egg’ and rather than plotting a huge omelette you watch the egg crack open to reveal a small red floating monster who is dubbed Chomp for his ability to gnaw on the first food item conjured up in front of you.
Now if you set aside the obvious question of what a small girl could possibly have to do alone in the woods (other than visiting her suspiciously hirsute grandmother) the game is not exactly plot heavy. Your usual fare of defeat the evil queen who’s terrorising the landscape, alongside her sub bosses of slowly increasing difficulty.
The game is I’m lead to believe brought to us by the people who made me rage with frustration at the puzzleformer game Henry Hatsworth and there are a lot of similarities between the two. The art style has clear connections to Hatsworth, as do some of the more unnecessarily aggravating moments. For a game clearly squarely aimed at young children and up it’s oddly challenging in parts and inexplicably has a fair amount of grinding to buy power ups which will be very much necessary to avoid some pretty horrific repeat deaths. The art style is cartoonish and well drawn, if perhaps like many games in the genre slightly brought down by the lack of enemy variants. There are something like ten different enemies to tackle, each with a fair share of different skins to change their elemental weakness or to add more hitpoints to them. Level design is fairly simple but there are varied worlds and backgrounds to go with each, though perhaps not quite as much variations in mechanics as could have been hoped for.
The game is very much in the vein of the ‘Metroidvania’ school of design, with branching paths and various collectable items used to access new areas. It loses something of the charm of this in actually ending up very linear, while there are split paths and areas you do have to do them in specific orders, ending up at the same point however you might want to progress. In almost Zelda or 3D era Metroid like form there will be doors that clearly cannot be unlocked until you discover a new item that quickly start to feel frustrating. There are some optional rooms with things in like extra power-up slots for your pet monster but they’re pretty hard to miss. If you happen to have gone past a room on the map without going in, chances are pretty high that there’s some added bonus in there and there’s no way to miss a doorway, the lack of ambiguity in this case making it much less satisfying.
In terms of basic combat it’s a reasonably solid system, you smash people with melee attacks to recharge your ranged weapon, which slowly gains extras like the ability to do charged shots or a powered up laser blast. The need for something which can either totally blast things or deal with multiple groups of enemies becomes much more vital later in the game where you can either be pushed off the side of a screen (annoying) by a tough monster or completely overwhelmed in sections where you have to fight until no more come (many deaths here, far more annoying). It does slightly make you feel like you’re dealing with a limited palette of moves but once you unlock the various combat additions it proves to be much more satisfying.
Your monster gains new forms as you progress through the game, foundling to teenager to adult, but none of them really feel that exciting. Chomp will basically do what he feels like whatever the form, unless you make him use one of his power-up moves. While he gains certain amounts of stats and progressively levels up to do more damage in these different forms each one appears to start again from level one on changing to it, making them feel largely pointless. I played the game trying to unlock as many forms as I could, feeding each preceding one with cookies or ham or whatever it was fond of and on reaching the end realised I had largely wasted my time. Part of the point of the different changes for chomp are that they can have different elements, in a rock-paper-stone method of strengths and weaknesses. Even when ineffective however it largely wasn’t a problem as you are doing far more damage than Chomp will ever do so you’re left largely wondering why you bothered. The different forms feel somewhat tacked on too. A water (read blue) variant was doing a move I had learnt as a stint as a fire elemental and actually changed during the cast animation back to red for a brief second. While it’s not in any way game breaking it did leave one wondering if they intended you to use much of this stuff at all.
Chomp’s forms do change in art style somewhat, he’ll gain claws or become a hulking Cyclopes but they don’t really deviate much from the standard models of his three ages. By far the cutest and therefor best model is his default one which I ended up sticking with whenever I had nothing else to feed to him with a chance for expanding into a new one. Lots of effort seems to have been made to make his animations in his base forms feel solid and meaty, in contrast to his powered up ones. The eating of a sandwich is backed up with big toothy munching and reading a book has him conjuring up a pair of reading glasses, it’s just that these don’t end up impacting enough on the rest of the game to feel like enough of a compensation for the vague aimless floating around he does for most of the rest of the time.
I may have seemed very negative about this game but it’s by no means bad. It feels like an experiment made by people still slightly unsure about how to make something really feel fun but knowing they’re getting close to it. I think much of the problem in this game is that the progression mechanic isn’t really tied to your character. You can strengthen Chomp but by feeling like a free floating creature, it’s never really a big part of the gameplay, short of the few mechanics which clearly say ‘you need him to do x to proceed’. There’s actually far more things you can customise about him than yourself but ultimately there’s almost no reason to bother doing so as the slight additions to his skills are almost certainly not going to really swing the tide in your favour.
I did actually manage to play through the entire thing which is in my current state of mind something unusual so there must have been some spark of interest there. It’s certainly worth trying.
- theinfinitenostalgia posted this